One band we haven’t given full props to until now is Queen.
Driven by the vocal histrionics of Freddie Mercury and the guitar wizardry of Brian May, this band tore up the charts with an insanely eclectic brand of rock, releasing 22 Top Ten albums and 23 Top Ten singles. Their biggest hit, the operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975), has been voted by many as the greatest rock song ever and their appearance at Live Aid (1985) has been hailed as the greatest rock performance of all time.
Here's one of their later hits, written by Brian May.
But few have paid notice to the intelligence of this band, which belies the doltish I-just-want-to-rock-and-roll-all-night stereotype of rockers. Brian May earned his PhD in astrophysics in 2007, co-authored Bang! — The Complete History of the Universe (as well as earlier articles on zodiacal dust), and served as chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University for five years. Drummer Roger Taylor already had a Bachelor of Science degree when he joined Queen. Bassist John Deacon had a Master of Science degree in acoustics and vibration technology, and designed equipment for the band. Mercury—born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar—was an Ealing Art College grad.
Maybe an overlooked business lesson from rock is to get REALLY SMART PEOPLE onto your team?
Lots of other lessons to learn from this gang: take innovative gambles, break the mold, be pioneers not copycats, and leave the competition in the zodiacal dust. Easier said than done, of course, but they did made it look easy. This is a musical act that has long defied simple classification given their genre-splitting creative reach. (Their music has been described as Prog, Pop, Metal, Glam, Psych, Opera, and even Dance!)
One November night in 1978 I met up with May and Taylor backstage at a Connecticut night club, Toad’s Place. It was obvious that these were bright fellows who knew where to find intellectual stimulation after their sold-out performance at the New Haven Coliseum. At the moment I was celebrating my triumphant campaign for Governor of Connecticut. (I didn’t technically win, but I made a strong enough showing to declare a personal triumph and hold my victory party at Toad’s.) May and Taylor enthusiastically joined in on the gaiety, apparently oblivious to the fact that I didn’t actually win the election. But I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I graciously accepted their toasts to my electoral accomplishment as a fellow musician and rookie politician.
So here’s another business lesson for ya: "Tude is everything! Fake it till you make it. Create the reality you want and others will buy into it." (This is related to my last post on creating enthusiasm from scratch.) Works for politics, art, and business. This was certainly the credo of Freddie Mercury and Queen.
I never met the mercurial Mercury, who died of complications from AIDS in 1991, but I always admired his songwriting creativity and his theatrical mastery. And of course his snarky wit, which was in evidence in his famous comeback line to Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, who apparently resented the rock & roll refinery of Queen.
Vicious: “So you’re this Freddie Platinum bloke that’s supposed to be bringing ballet to the masses?
Mercury: “Ah, Mr. Ferocious! We’re doing our best, dear.”
Queen has resumed touring in the last decade fronted by lead singer Paul Rodgers and more recently Adam Lambert.
For an earlier post about my rock & roll campaign and my election night party with Queen, check here. The reader commentary is especially amusing.